For all its flaws, there’s a bit of the first Sex and the City movie which is burned into my brain. The girls are at a jewellery auction where the scorned ex-girlfriend of a billionaire is selling off her most valuable possessions after being kicked out of the home she shared with him and finding herself left only with valuable gifts she could flog.
As they stand in the auction house toilets, ever sensible Miranda throws frustrating Carrie a this-could-happen-to-you-if-you-don’t-marry-Big look. Carrie stares into space and later that day tells Big that she wants to sell her flat so they co-own the ridiculous penthouse they’re about to buy together.
Much of that scenario is very unrelatable: the jewellery, the billionaire, the going to an auction in the middle of the working day. But the idea that a relationship ending could suddenly leave you poorer is something we’ve all thought about at some point. As if we need reminding, nobody is more affected by Britain’s housing crisis than single women.
There's also the eternal mystery of how Carrie managed to buy so many shoes and make a living as a writer in Manhattan but that’s not the point. The point is this: for centuries, women were chattel in heteronormative relationships, finding their fortunes were at least intertwined with if not completely tied to a man.
However, according to new research, a huge attitude shift – driven by young women – is underway.
A survey of almost 4,000 British women conducted by Netwealth found that 31% of those aged between 16 and 54 opted against sharing financial assets with their significant other. More than this, two fifths of women aged 16-34 said that they now play an equal role in the management of household wealth.
31% of women aged between 16 and 54 opted not to share financial assets with their significant other.
This was markedly different from women aged over 55, the majority of whom said they choose to share their wealth with a partner.
More than one in three women who responded to the survey said that they regret not maintaining financial independence during a relationship while, somewhat terrifyingly, only a third of divorced women said they expect to be able to secure a comfortable retirement.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sara Mohammed, a project manager earning £36k from Gateshead understands this shift all too well. She’s been with her boyfriend for three and a half years, they now live together.
"At first," she tells Refinery29, "I was really ashamed of my finances because I was in quite a bit of debt so I wanted to keep everything separate but it’s just kind of stuck.
"My mum got a joint account with my dad as soon as they moved in together and left the finances up to him to sort out, it meant she took on a very traditional role throughout the marriage," she adds. "But I think we’re more independent now...we have careers, we are the breadwinners, we take control of a lot of things that we didn’t necessarily do before."
Sara says keeping finances separate has been nothing but a good thing for her relationship. "It’s fun to compare how we spend our money differently," she says. "I think it leads to more equal relationships and more fluidity too, the breadwinner can change throughout the course of a relationship now. It makes it more accessible for alternative formats like the dad being the one to take paternity leave while the woman goes back to work."
One in three women said that they regret not maintaining financial independence during a relationship.
Amy King, who is 34 and living in County Durham, agrees wholeheartedly. She lives with her husband in a home they own together.
Until recently, Amy was the breadwinner "by a significant margin" in her relationship, working as an aftersales manager for a luxury car brand. Now, she’s decided to go back to university to study maths and her husband earns more than her, but they still keep everything separate.
"We just never felt that combining our finances would improve anything for us," she tells Refinery29. "We have always been good at talking about money, managing our budgets and splitting our costs so neither of us could ever see an advantage to having a joint account."
More than that, she adds that neither of them "ever wanted to be in a situation" where they were "asking each other what every little transaction was for".
"We would both definitely do that because we like to keep a tight eye on what we’re spending," she adds. "And, finally, the other reason is that if things go wrong – which we both hope they don’t – it would be much easier to separate everything out."
Amy thinks attitudes have changed significantly in recent years. "Some of my friends who are married and have kids do have joint accounts but I can’t really understand why...I do think people have become more aware of what will happen in the event of a divorce because it’s so much more common and I think more people do try to protect themselves from that."
She’s not wrong. Young people today are less likely to get married and, when they do, they are getting married later, according to the Office for National Statistics. And growing up, they will have watched many marriages end.
It’s a little over 100 years ago that the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act gave women the right to buy and sell their own property. The Equal Pay Act, introduced in 1970 is, if you think about it, also still very recent. So, in the far-reaching context of history, British women’s financial independence is still a relatively new phenomenon.
Charlotte Ransom, CEO of Netwealth tells Refinery29 that "we are seeing this shift when it comes to financial behaviours among younger women, who are less likely to take a 'what’s mine is yours' approach to finance. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that these women are entering relationships with greater personal wealth than previous generations, and are unlikely to be happy to relinquish control."
She says that "women’s relationship with wealth is undergoing a revolution" and said she wants to see more women investing their money. "Investing," she adds, "is an integral part of the journey if we are to tackle the gender wealth gap and achieve our long-term financial goals."
There are some reports that women’s share of global wealth is increasing and, while it’s clear that there’s a long way to go, signs that attitudes towards finances in relationships are shifting suggest that the future could look very different.